Male Urethra: An Overview

The urethra forms part of the lower urinary system. It is the tube that carries urine from the bladder out of the body.

This system is responsible for allowing a man to urinate, which is critical to ensure toxic waste materials can be removed from the system.

It also transports semen and sperm, a crucial component of fertility.

While the urethra usually performs effectively, there are times where issues can develop.

This post explores the male urethra, including some common symptoms that you may experience, including painful urination.

What is the male urethra?

We will start by taking a closer look at the anatomy of the male urethra.

The urethra is essentially a tube that ensures a connection between the penis and the bladder.

While the primary function of the urethra in men is to carry the urine from the bladder to the penis, the component also forms part of sexual health.

The urethra is made of three different parts. It’s worth noting that some publications may divide the male urethra into four segments instead of three.

male urethra
Male urethra

Where is the urethra located?

The urethra is located is within the pelvis or groin region of the body. This is because the urethra is a tube that extends from one point in this region to the next.

The urethra starts at the bladder, where it makes its initial connection. It then moves down toward the penis.

At this point, the urethra connects directly with the internal structures of the penis. This is where the urethra allows semen and urine to expel from the male body.

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Prostatic Urethra

When looking at the male urethra, it is vital to take the various segments that this tube is made of into account.

The prostatic urethra is one particular segment of this body part, which forms part of the urinary system in men. It begins as a continuation of the bladder neck and passes through the prostate gland.

In some publications, you may notice that this specific area of the urethra is further broken down into two segments. This would generally include the periprostatic urethra, as well as the prostatic urethra.

The name of the prostatic urethra relates to its position. This is the very first segment of the urethra. The prostatic urethra segment continues toward the point where the tube emerges from the prostate gland’s apex.

Membranous Urethra

The second and middle segment is known as the membranous urethra. This is the part of the urethra tube that is located between the urogenital diaphragm. The urogenital diaphragm consists of multiple layers.

Spongy Urethra

The final part of this structure is the spongy urethra. This part is often known as the penile urethra, or sometimes called the urethra’s concave portion.

When compared to the prostatic and membranous segments, the spongy urethra is the most extended segment of the three that make up this tube.

The spongy urethra is located inside the penis – specifically, in the chamber known as the corpus spongiosum.

In most men, the spongy urethra segment will be 15cm in length. The diameter of the spongy urethra usually measures in at around 6mm. This part of the urethra is uniform in size and is narrow. It is connected to the membranous urethra, where it starts.

The spongy urethra then extends toward the external urethral orifice, which is the area at the tip of the male penis where urine is expelled.

This area is also responsible for ensuring semen can be discharged, which is how natural reproduction occurs.

The spongy urethra dilates at the glans penis. At this point, the spongy urethra forms what is known as the fossa navicularis urethrae, which is the final part of the urinary tract.

What is the purpose of the urethra?

The urethra plays a part in both the urinary and the reproductive system. Understanding how the urethra works in both of these systems is important, which we will consider in this section.

As we have already explained, the urethral opening is responsible for allowing an outlet from the bladder.

The outlet ensures that urine can be expelled from the bladder. Urine collects in the bladder as the kidney filters bodily fluids and remove toxins from the system.

As urine collects in the bladder, it eventually becomes full. The man gets a signal that they need to urinate.

During urination, muscles relax and allow urine to flow from the bladder into the urethra. The urethra then carries the urine through all three segments.

Finally, the urine is expelled from the body at the tip of the man’s penis.

In men, the urethra does not only form part of the urinary system. The reproductive system also counts on the urethra to deliver sperm and ensure semen can be expelled from the body when sexually stimulated.

It should be noted that the urethral sphincter muscle forms part of this tube. This sphincter controls muscles that are responsible for the regulation of urination – including involuntary and voluntary urination.

There are sphincter muscles on the inside and outside of the urethra to give it more control over urination.

Another part, known as the bulbospongiosus muscle, has a role to play in the ejaculation of sperm during sexual stimulation as well.

These are not the only roles that the urethra plays, however. The urethra is responsible for preventing urine reflux, which occurs when urine flows back upward to the bladder during urination.

At the same time, the urethra also needs to ensure that sperm does not flow backward, which can cause problems in men.

What role does the urethra play in men’s health?

The urethra helps with urination and sperm expulsion during sexual activity, playing a crucial role in men’s health.

Consider the fact that the urethra expels toxic waste from the body. The kidneys act as a filter for blood and other bodily fluids.

Toxins that are present in the body are filtered out by the kidneys and then moved to the bladder, along with excess fluids that are present in the body.

The bladder collects this mixture, which creates urine. The urine is then expelled by the urethra. Thus, the urethra allows toxic materials to be removed from the male body.

The urethra also helps to prevent fluids, including sperm and urine, from flowing back into the body. Both of these factors can cause problems, including irritation and other conditions.

It is also important to take note that the urethra helps to protect the urinary tract from foreign bodies found in the environment.

When these bacteria enter the urethra, they can cause the development of an infection. In turn, this can cause several problems, from frequent urination in men to more severe issues like systemic infection.

What does it mean when your urethra hurts?

Many conditions can affect the urinary tract, including the bladder and the urethra.

In men, the prostate is another potential target for various diseases – and when the prostate becomes inflamed, it can cause issues with the urethra as well.

This is important to note as the prostate surrounds the urethra at a position just below the bladder.

Additional lower urinary tract symptoms often accompany pain affecting the urethra. A man may find that they also experience discomfort in the area.

A burning sensation may be experienced during urination. While these symptoms may sometimes be mild, there are cases where the burning and pain become so severe that the man would fear to urinate entirely.

There are various potential causes behind pain in the urethra. Therefore, it is vital for men to get a diagnosis to address the underlying problem.

Some possible underlying causes behind the pain that affect the urethra may include:

  • Sexually transmitted diseases (Chlamydia is a common example)

  • Urinary tract infection

  • Urinary retention.

  • Urethritis

  • Urethral stricture, which may be caused by swelling or scar tissue from surgery

  • Urethral syndrome, a type of irritation, which can occur from the use of soaps that contain harsh chemicals

  • Spermicide products may also cause irritation and pain

  • An indwelling catheter

Prostate Conditions

Prostatitis is another potential cause. This is a condition whereby inflammation develops in the prostate gland.

In this case, the prostate gland can cause a restriction in the urethra as it presses on this tube.

Another relatively common condition in men is benign prostatic hyperplasia, which is also an inflammation of the prostate gland.

When the prostate becomes enlarged and inflamed, it can have several complications in a man’s life. This includes poor urine flow and urinary incontinence.

Many more serious conditions exist as well, which can cause pain and accompanying symptoms. This includes diseases like urethral cancer and bladder cancer.

How do you treat an inflamed urethra?

The treatment of inflammation that affects the urethra depends on an initial diagnosis. A physician may order a test for common sexually transmitted diseases.

This can help to rule out STDs as potential causes behind the symptoms that the man is experiencing.

It may also require a post-void residual urine test and blood tests. In some cases, the patient also needs imaging tests (voiding cystourethrography) to get a better view of the structure of the urethra.

This will help to determine how the inflammation is affecting the internal region of the patient’s groin area.

Treatment will generally focus on targeting the underlying root causes.

When the underlying cause is targeted through a treatment plan, then the inflammation is likely to resolve too.

A male patient may also have anti-inflammatory medications during treatment, which can help to reduce swelling.

Urethral cancer treatment would differ from a protocol provided for a man with an infection in the urethra. This is why a diagnosis is such an important step.

Kegel exercises, also known as pelvic floor exercises, are sometimes preferred for men who experience sexual complications. This can be due to the presence of inflammation in their prostate, which can affect the urethra.

They help to strengthen pelvic floor muscles, which in turn, can help to prevent urinary and fecal incontinence.

A lot of men may find that natural remedies for BPH help to reduce inflammation.

In more serious cases, a surgical procedure or radiation therapy for enlarged prostate may be needed.

To find out more on surgery options for an enlarged prostate, click here.


The urethra plays a vital role in men’s health. It enables the urine to be moved from the bladder filtered out by the kidneys. It also carries semen toward the penis, which is crucial for male reproduction.

There are many different causes of urethra pain. Most often, it occurs as a result of an infection or an irritation.

In men, the prostate is another potential target for various diseases – and when the prostate becomes inflamed, it can cause issues with the urethra as well.

If you start to experience pain, it is important to see your doctor, who can diagnose and treat the underlying problem.

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  4. Sam P, LaGrange CA. Anatomy, Abdomen and Pelvis, Sphincter Urethrae. [Updated 2019 Feb 6]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2019 Jan-.
  5. Stoddard N, Leslie SW. Histology, Male Urethra. [Updated 2019 May 17]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2019 Jan-.

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